Wednesday, 4 August 2010

July Smallholding Update

The Baby: Yes, the baby has moved to the top of the list as (s)he's been the priority for me this month! :D We've now less than two weeks to go, and are pretty much as prepared as we're going to be (please ignore the filthy mirror in the above photo, ha ha). Physically, I've become quite uncomfortably cumbersome. I find myself out of breath even when climbing the stairs slowly, and have been having what can only be "practise labour" pains! Short distances have started to seem longer and longer, meaning I have to really think twice about heading down to the garden, or up the lane. I've started having a lie down in the afternoon, and even if I can't fall asleep it helps with the slump in energy levels. Squiggles is huge (so it seems to me!) and has very chunky feet which (s)he likes to regularly exercise against my ribcage, but at least (s)he's in the right position and is engaged and ready to go according to the scan we had last Thursday. Speaking of which, the head circumference measurements taken in the scan seemed to imply that the baby was more like a 39 week old than a 37.5 week old, though the abdomen was a little smaller than the average at this stage... We're going to have a baby with a massive head and a tiny body, argh!!! Phil is convinced that the baby will come sometime this week (wishful thinking, I reckon - he's probably just tired of me asking for help with the washing up), and I'm hoping it will come early too - isn't that what everyone wishes for, though?

Going to Aberystwyth for the scan meant that we could pick up loads of the bits and bobs we'd been promised, so we now have a huge quantity of prefolds, fleece liners/wipes, enough washable size 2 nappies to take us to potty training, a door bouncer, some washable breast pads and various other useful baby-related things... I feel ready now. Come on, Squiggles!

The Vegetable Garden: We've continued having our weekly smallholding supper (with extra variety almost every week), and everything seems on the verge of abundance. Phil and I haven't bought a single vegetable for a couple of weeks, and although we've been getting through a lot of potatoes, we're not tired of them yet. They just taste so good! Most of our meals are made from vegetables we've grown, perhaps with a bought addition such as a fillet of sea bass, a cheeky pie or some grated cheese. It feels great to gather what we need when we need it - it's so much healthier, and we're saving money too.

The Orchard: Plans are afoot for a massive cider-making project, as the old apple trees (which looked dead when we got here) are absolutely loaded with fruit now. Phil's been making blades for a machine which will chop up the fruit, and either we'll buy/borrow a secondhand press, or he will throw together some kind of apple press using a car jack or some such...

Drinks: While I'm on the subject of cider, I ought to mention that this month Phil's been inspired to start off some homemade wine - just some grape wine from cartons of juice, but it's great to see him getting excited about his demijohns! :D After I made a good quantity of elderflower cordial last month, I wanted to make a load more (but this time with citric acid so that it would last up to a year) but the rain came and destroyed the flowers, so I'll have to wait until next year for that now. Never mind, I followed the same recipe (for elderflower cordial) to make lemon balm cordial (with the citric acid) and it worked out beautifully, so I have a very refreshing replacement! This is the recipe:

Elderflower/Lemon Balm Cordial

20-30 freshly picked heads elderflower (or a big bowlful of lemon balm leaves)
granulated sugar
4-5 lemons, for juice
tartaric/citric acid (optional, keeps for several weeks in fridge without it)

1. Place elderflower heads/lemon balm leaves in a large bowl and cover them completely with just-boiled water (about 1.5 - 2 litres). Cover and leave overnight.

2. Strain liquid through muslin, gently squeezing to extract all the juice.

3. Measure the amount of liquid, and pour it into a large saucepan. To every 500ml of liquid, add 350g sugar, 50ml of fresh lemon juice, and a heaped teaspoon of tartaric/citric acid (if using).

4. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, stirring occasionally. Bring to gentle simmer and skim off the scum.

5. Let the cordial cool, then strain once again through muslin, pour through a funnel into clean bottles (sterilised if you'll be keeping it) - filling them to within about 2-3cm of top. Seal with screw-tops or corks.

6. To serve, dilute to taste with ice-cold water - at least 5:1 water to cordial.

The Polytunnel: The cucumber plants had been starting to turn the polytunnel into a hazardous jungle, preventing access to most of their hidden fruits, as well as the courgettes. Something had to be done, so I hacked away ruthlessly until we could walk between them and the pepper plants. The tomatoes are doing really well, the fruits are much sweeter than they were in the early stages - much softer and tastier and more like we'd hoped they would be. :D The 'Gold Rush' courgettes are also very fruitful - and as they are my favourite vegetable I've been happy to eat so many.

Pests: With the coming of the rain we have seen a huge increase in the slug population. I don't want to talk about how it feels to snip their rubbery, oozy bodies in half with the slug scissors.

Wild Food: The crab apples are growing (imperceptibly!) but won't be fully ripe until late winter. And we've got our eyes on the masses of hazelnuts in the hedgerows and up the lane, though the chances are that the squirrels will get to them before they're ready to pick. Phil has been bringing back all sorts of mushrooms and fungi from his long walks with the cats, but upon examination most have turned out to be worthless in the kitchen. My dad found some horse mushrooms (which were strongly flavoured), but won't tell us where on the land they were growing!


  1. I'll keep my fingers crossed for Squiggles to arrive soon, and with a lovely speedy, hassle-free delivery. Whereabouts are you having him/her?

    It sounds like you're very well prepared, and the more I read your blog, the more I think what an incredibly lucky baby Squiggles is: to live with close family, somewhere beautiful and productive, and with you and Phil as parents:-) xxx

  2. Thanks for the elderflower cordial recipe - I've been meaning to get around to looking for one, so I am wondering whether you long-distance read my mind...

    All sounds fabulously idyllic :)

    Hope Squiggles doesn't keep you waiting too much longer now. Enjoy :)